Q&A: Fana Mokoena Talks ‘World War Z,’ South Africa Industry & Brad Pitt

By Zac Shull  |  06/27/2013

Fana Mokoena with Brad Pitt in World War Z

Summer is the best time for many things including the weather, vacations ... and movies. It's the time when movie studios ready blockbusters. So far, this season, we've seen Iron Man 3, This Is The End and Man Of Steel. In order for a movie to do well in the summer, it has to be a great film. This just happens to be the case Brad Pitt's zombiepocalypse thriller, World War Z.

We caught up with one of the stars of the movie, Fana Mokoena. He's been working as an actor in his native country South Africa for almost 18 years. But, most recently crossed over the States, and has already worked with big name actors like Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Leonardo Dicaprio, and now, Brad Pitt. During our chat, Fana talks about what it is like to work Hollywood's brightest, the making of World War Z, and what is Brad Pitt really like?

You are from South Africa, I am curious what's the difference between North Africa and South Africa?

The culture is very different when you go further up Africa. The people in the northern part tend to be taller and you can notice the difference facial features. Other than that, there is not much different.

You started acting in South Africa right?

Yes, and I have been working there almost 18 years now. Then we ventured out to Kenya, Nigeria and other parts of South Africa.

How did you end up breaking into the United States film market?

South Africa has been trying very hard to work with the States. We have a lot of professional people who work in the film industry in our country. We attracted good workers and good producers and such. We built connections and then they shot, Safe House with Denzel Question here and, Machine Gun Preacher with Gerard Butler as well. It's not a huge market in Africa, but we are hard working. We are starting to get international recognition from these movies I mentioned. For me, when I was in Machine Gun Preacher, I learned the producers and directors saw me in another movie called Hotel Rwanda. Word gets out and you start to get recognized more and more in the United States.

In a very short time, you have worked with some of the biggest movie stars in the world. You already mentioned Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Gerard Butler and Brad Pitt, and you were even in a movie with Ice Cube right? It was Dangerous Grounds, correct?

Right, yes. I was even in Blood Diamonds with Leonardo Dicaprio. They cut my scenes because the movie was too long and they didn't need my story line. I was in some major scenes with Leonardo.

When you do a movie with a big star, do you actually get to know them at all or interact with them much off screen?

It's kind of difficult because those guys are way too busy man. I am learning about the culture of working is very different at that level. For somebody like Leonardo or Brad Pitt, it gets very hectic. Having said that, I have had pretty warm moments with all of them. I remember when we did Blood Diamonds, I got there two days early. I wanted to see how the director works and such. I introduced myself to Leonardo and he was like, "Yea man, let's do the scene." He took me by surprised and we started practicing the scene. After the scene, Leo was asking me about South African culture and my family. I had a similar experience with Brad Pitt too. I find it amazing that they still have time to sit and chat and be human.

What did you think about Leo's South African accent? Did he nail it?

I think he did a good job, he pulled off 80% of it. I don't expect him to pull off 100%, but he did an amazing job. He actually got it and I was pretty convinced and I am from South Africa.

I saw World War Z and I loved it. Your character and Brad Pitt are very close friends in the movie. It seemed like you had real chemistry.

Yea, yea, I think he picked it up from me off set that this is the biggest project I have been involved in. He could tell I was a bit nervous and I am used to productions that come to South Africa. We filmed this movie outside of South Africa, which was new to me. Brad kind of made the first move to say, "Hello, how are you? What is South Africa like?" The producers and directors and staff made me feel very comfortable. Brad and I had conversations about my country and about Nelson Mandela. He did a good job of making me feel comfortable and he is a very nice guy.

For the majority of the movie, your character is on one of the U.N.'s ships in the middle of the ocean. I am curious, how did you actually film that? Was any of it shot on a real ship or was it all CGI?

Everything was filmed on the ship, so it was all real. I don't know if they really cgi'd too much, because I only saw the movie once. I think there was one scene that wasn't filmed on a ship. I was amazed because they rebuilt part of the ship for a certain scene. We went from filming on the real ship to the ship that they built, and it looked exactly the same. I was amazed how real the ship that they built for this scene was. Somebody gave me a figure of how much it cost just to hire the crew to make this ship. The number was huge. You could film four movies in South Africa for the price they told me. Big movies have big budgets and they can afford to do things like build a fake ship.

What was it like seeing this movie for the first time?

I felt really good that this company trusted me to act in their movie. Seeing the movie for the first time was incredible for lack of a better term. I just couldn't believe it, because I saw them make this from start to finish. I still want to see it for a second time, so I can understand myself that I am really in this amazing film. The movie is really really well made.

The movie is out now and I would recommend people seeing it. I have seen all the big blockbusters this summer, and World War Z is just as good if not better.

Well thank you for that I am hoping it does really well. I hope everyone that sees it likes it.